After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Black Sea Region has been a major point of influence in an informational/propagandous war between the West and the East. It has had pretty much no rest, due to its vital geolocational importance of reaching both the East and the West. A wall that pretty much divided both sides, while at the same time remaining a point where all met.
Geopolitics has been something that world empires have relentlessly fought and sought after. The inability to agree on politics, culture, religion, tradition…etc as well as the hunger to rule over nations, industries, and economies has caused a big portion of misery in history. As our surroundings evolve, many of us have grown blind, oblivious to how the fight for Geopolitical Dominance is still very present. It has not changed, not the slightest bit.
The importance of the Black Sea for Russia
The Black Sea Region isn’t just about Soviet history for Putin. It plays a huge role for Russia. This region plays a major route for Russia’s oil and gas, home of Russia’s only warm-water ports, and represents a defensive shield that protects it from threats emanating from the south but also projects power outwards into the Black Sea region and the Mediterranean. Not only that, but it serves as Russia’s main logistics route supporting military and paramilitary operations in the Middle East and Africa.
Two areas that have been sought/fought for by the U.S, NATO, and Russia for years now.
The Black Sea Region is to some extent, extremely crucial for Russia to remain as it is today. For NATO it is the key to shaping and perhaps even changing the current Russian regime, into a constitution that fits the likes of the West and the U.S in particular. Not to mention that it is a major step toward a U.S led world.
As Zbigniew Brzezinski, (Polish/American Diplomat and Political Scientist), once implied; “If Russia is allowed to subordinate Ukraine, Russia will never be able to cease being an empire, and an empire, by definition, cannot be a true democracy.”
The same can pretty much be applied to the rest of the Black Sea Region.
And as we all know, on the 24th of February at around 5:55 Am (UTC), Russia launched what they called a “Special military operation” on Ukraine, which pretty much means, a military invasion of Ukraine.
Since 2008 the world has witnessed a Black Sea Region mainly ruled under Russian influence. In 2007, however, things looked different, according to Jim Townsend, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy, the Black Sea was ringed by nations who were either NATO allies or partners on the road to membership. Yet as 2008 hit in, Russian forces partially occupied two NATO partners, Ukraine and Georgia, to keep them out of the Alliance. While Turkey has been shattering its membership with NATO, where its bilateral relationship is still stronger with Russia than with most NATO allies.
The fact that the Black Sea features some of Europe’s fastest-growing economies has also made this region a focus of China. Beijing has attempted to establish footholds in the region via investments through its Belt and Road Initiative and format for regional engagement.
How important is the Black Sea Region for the West?
As Alina Polyakova, (CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis), said in the Foreign Senate Subcommittee, September 2021: “The Black Sea Region is where Russia, Europe, the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Caucasus come together—and where the forces of democracy to the west, Russian military aggression to the north, Chinese economic influence to the east, and instability in the Middle East to the south converge.”
In other words, whoever “owns” the Black Sea Region has a possibility to influence/ attain knowledge about their opponents since it all meets at a point there. West, North, East, and South. Whoever that might be, will be in full control of what enters Europe and what does not, that being in terms of information, supplies, fossil fuels…etc.
If Russia were the leading force, it would possibly have good access to;
- – The spreading of Russian Propaganda to the west,
- – Blackmail using domestic warfare not just to the region but western Europe, (especially if Germany had accepted Nordstream 2)
- – Competing with the U.S as the largest producer of natural gas, Russia ranking 2nd. (The biggest exports of natural gas from Russia, are to Europe and China.)
- – Competing for its influence in the Middle East and Africa
- – Competing for geopolitical dominance
- – Increased Russian military around/in Europe
If NATO (U.S.) were the leading force, it would possibly have access to:
- – Block Russia’s exportation of natural Gas toward the region
- – Have African countries as well as Middle Eastern countries be more accepting and in favor of U.S policy as well as holding a more pro-western political view.
- – Attain more control over Chinese infrastructure expansion as well as Europe’s economical dependence on China
- – Increased U.S military expansion around the region
- – Cut an immerse amount of Chinese and Russian influence towards the West
- – A way of potentially weakening Russia economically and capable of cutting all ties between Russia and Europe
- – A Europe based solely on information deriving/approved by the U.S
China’s role in the Black Sea
For China, the Black Sea region is irrelevant when it comes to hydrocarbon, and fossil fuels (oil, oil products, natural gas, or coal), because of its distance, as well as the fact that Europe is not a large supplier to China in terms of fossil fuels. The only thing that is valuable in the BSR for China is its use for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). (Chinese Global Infrastructure development strategy)
The tensions within the Black Sea Region as well as the worldwide fight to create renewable energy, have created a new market potential for China.
In 2020, China General Nuclear Power Group (CGNPG) spoke about upgrading a nuclear power complex at Cernavodă in Romania. By building in Romania and exploring a smaller nuclear deal in Bulgaria, Chinese companies could gain stable ground in a competitive and saturated nuclear energy market. Allowing them to influence a vital energy hub powering Southern Europe and Turkey.
This project, of course, raised concerns about Beijing increasing its influence and intelligence collection potential in a critical location, that being NATO ground. As a result of these security concerns and U.S pressure, the Romanian government asked the Romanian state company Nuclearelectrica, which runs the nuclear power plant in Cernavodă, to end the negotiations with its Chinese partner in May 2020. Where the Romanian Government added, that the country prefers to seek such partnerships with NATO countries.
According to Chinese government projections, within the next decade, China may surpass the United States as the world’s leading nuclear energy producer. If China were to be capable of globalizing Chinese nuclear development projects, it would only speed things up. Making it more difficult, competitive if not impossible for the United States to keep up.
Will there be a Russian-Chinese Alliance?
While the Black Sea Region (BSR) is not an overly active point for China compared to the U.S and Russia, China has been faced with a choice since the BSR conflicts started. The country tried to remain neutral in terms of portraying the news of what happened in the BSR between Russia and the U.S, but as things escalated more and more, China started to choose.
According to a document of the Frontier Europe Initiative (November 2020), “Previously, China tolerated the expansion of Western influence in Ukraine and Georgia, hoping that Russia would not overreact, but now it highlights the role of the “instigators” — that is the regional partners of the U.S. In other words, the emphasis has swung from tolerating Western actions and disliking Russian counter-reactions to the exact opposite position: tolerating Russian actions and disliking Western encroachment on Moscow’s interests.”
After Russia annexed Crimea, energy surfaced as an existential problem for Russia’s effective control of the peninsula. Due to Western sanctions, China remained the only option. According to the Frontier Europe Initiative; In March 2015, Russia signed a contract with the Chinese company Jiangsu Hengtong Power Systems for the production and supply of a 220-kilowatt subaquatic high-voltage cable. This was a Kremlin idea plan to minimize Crimea’s dependence on Ukraine for energy. A “power bridge” that would connect Crimea to Russia through an underwater cable in the Black Sea, across the Kerch Strait.
Even though Ukraine filled allegations that China was breaking international law, work to develop the power bridge began on October 18th, 2020.
For Europe and the U.S, the goal of Chinese leaders seemed to be to strengthen their own personal ties with their Russian counterparts.
So the question remains, “Are we heading towards the forming of a Russian-Chinese alliance?”
While it seems logical for China to pick an alliance with Russia since China has been blocked increasingly throughout the years from expanding its infrastructure, China and Russia also have their disputes.
A particular challenge for China, as it tries to cultivate ties with a broad range of international partners, is its continuing quasi-alliance with Russia and the high level of mutual trust between their leaders prohibiting either country from forming bonds with the enemies of the other.
China will most likely side with the one who is more capable of promising its dream of increased global infrastructure and global economic dependence on China. Even though the U.S as well as Russia are most likely to neglect such wishes, Russia seems to be a more favorable character to China due to its already existent trust. The most recent destruction of U.S-China relations has been the way the west has portrayed China as the one to blame during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Not to mention that NATO countries such as Romania and Italy have completely blocked Chinese upgrades, and/or the building of new facilities to explore/build renewable energy as well as telecommunications. Which slows down the Chinese wishes for increased global infrastructure. This is what China and Russia pretty much agree on. That being that the expansion of NATO in the BSR equals to a limited/shrunk area of infrastructural expansion opportunity from China’s point of view. While for Russia, it threatens Russia’s current position in the region.
The U.S problem with Erdogan
The U.S-Turkey friendship dates back to 1831 when the United States established diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Empire according to the U.S Department of Defense. The friendship has since then grown. In 1927, the U.S finally established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Turkey and by 1952 Turkey was finally a NATO member.
This friendship however has slowly degraded into a difficult one, and according to the U.S, it only became worse since Erdogan came into power.
Turkey, which likes to call itself to NATO and Russia as the guardian of the Black Sea region has been a target of influence and pressure from the west and east. Not just for its claimed name but because of its size compared to all other BSR countries.
To NATO, Turkey is its military heavyweight in the region. However, it can be a challenging ally. To Russia, thanks to the “formed friendship” between Erdogan and Putin, Turkey remains a country that is easy to influence/manipulate domestically.
Just to name a few here are some recent ones:
In 2019, Turkey played around with Russia and NATO when they decided to buy a Russian S400 surface-to-air defense system, which posed the question; If Turkey transitions to major Russian weapons platforms with multi-decade lifespans, how can it stay closely integrated with NATO on defense matters? This led the U.S and NATO to bring in sanctions, one being that Turkey would not receive the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft it had planned to purchase and would also stop manufacturing components for F-35s.
In the same year, a dispute between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus was formed about Eastern Mediterranean energy exploration which has arguably brought Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Egypt closer together. Where some EU sanctions against Turkish individuals aimed at discouraging Turkish drilling near Cyprus have been imposed.
The Turkish actions in Syria against the People’s Protection Units (Kurdish acronym YPG), where they have conducted operations that NATO has objected to, calling them out on undermining the de-ISIS campaign, risking, endangering, and displacing civilians, destroying critical civilian infrastructure and threatening the security of the area. Where Turkey’s military actions have precipitated a humanitarian crisis and set conditions for possible war crimes.
As well as the democracy and rule of law within Turkey under Erdogan. International observers claim that Erdogan is “undermining democracy” and the rule of law by unduly influencing elections, controlling the media, exploiting Turkey’s legal system to punish political opponents, suppressing civil liberties, and unfairly targeting or repressing Turkey’s Kurds and other ethnic and religious minorities.
Is Turkey blocking NATO?
According to Jim Townsend, (who served eight years as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for European and NATO Policy), in 2016 NATO tried to create a regular and rotational maritime presence in the Black Sea and it was blocked by Turkey. According to him the motive behind the blockage lies within this belief in Turkey that the Black Sea is their preserve.
Whereas Alina Polyakova, CEO of CEPA, believes that it really stems from, Erdogan as a person and how he sees his own security domestically.
According to her in the Foreign Senate subcommittee of 2021: “There is, I think, a perception among those in the elite that are close to him (Erdogan) and probably there is a perception that he holds as well, that if there is another democratic uprising, if there is another coup attempt, someone has to come to his rescue and that is going to be the Kremlin.”
Later on, she implied further, “I think the Turkey-Russia relationship is primarily about Erdogan and Putin. That being said, Russia has a huge amount of leverage over Turkey. Russia’s positions in Syria could turn up another refugee wave, a migrant wave, into Turkey. They are absolutely terrified of that.”
Russian tourists make up the largest part of the foreign tourist industry in Turkey, according to her, there are elements, and time and again when Erdogan does something, and then all of a sudden, Russian tourists cannot go to Turkey anymore. This really hurts Erdogan domestically. One can even recognize such actions as “Domestic Warfare”.
On one hand, you have Russia pressuring Turkey, perhaps the only NATO member to have “good relations” with Russia, to oppose further NATO expansion in the Black Sea. While on the other hand, you have NATO which seems pretty uninterested in the concerns of Turkey’s domestic political concerns of Russian pressure.
As an example of this, we can look at 2015, when Putin claimed that Turkey supported ISIS through oil trade, expanding the narrative to specifically target President Erdogan’s son, Bilal. An RT article titled “Ankara’s oil business with ISIS” speculated “Bilal Erdogan was directly involved in the black market oil business with Islamic State”.
Later in 2016, Putin and Erdogan held a summit in St. Petersburg and agreed to bridge their differences over the downing of the Su-24. After the August summit, Russia’s claims about Turkey seemed to have disappeared. According to Economist, since the meeting, Sputnik Turkey “has drummed up support for the rapprochement between Turkey and Russia,” praising Turkey’s decision to buy Russia’s S-400 missile system.
Just yesterday July the 18th, we can see another shift in Turkey’s stand on NATO matters. According to the Express, Erdogan has renewed his threat to freeze Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bids, despite a memorandum signed with the two countries last month to allow their membership.
At the end of the day, all the attendees at the Foreign Senate Black Sea Security 2021 subcommittee,m agreed that the relationship between the U.S and Turkey might only be able to improve in a post-Erdogan era.
The potential of Romania
Romania has been a NATO member since 2004, it has been according to NATO a great ally, “always the first in line to take on NATO initiatives or take on NATO missions”.
Throughout my research relating to the Black Sea, I noticed how Romania seems to be a place that stands out and is clear for NATO. Funny enough those assumptions were confirmed once I came across the Foreign Senate Subcommittee of September 2021 document. In there they stated that yes, Romania stands as a top priority to invest in and high-interest focus on, its key position in the eastern flank and the ongoing national defense strategy 2020-2024.
The U.S. has been more active in the past years, by sending guided missile cruisers into the Black Sea, rotating forces and air assets into Romania, and investing millions to improve training areas and air bases in Romania and Bulgaria.
However, the promising thing about Romania is that it could host a Black Sea intelligence fusion center to collect information on Russian activity in the Black Sea, analyzing intelligence collected from NATO, Partner, or Allied assets such as drones or P–8s periodically deployed to Romania, all meant to “understand” Russian operations.
According to Ian Brzezinski, (who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy), Washington disarmed itself in 1999 when it closed the doors of the United States Information Agency, USIA. A multi-billion-dollar department representing the frontline force of the U.S in the realm of information warfare. It was established ‘‘to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics in the promotion of the (U.S) national interest’’ and to ‘‘streamline the U.S. Government’s overseas information programs and make them more effective.”
Brzezinski believes, that congress should reestablish a modernized version of USIA “so they can return to the offense in this dynamic and fast-paced dimension of international affairs.”
Wouldn’t Romania be a good fit to hold such a department?
Conclusion: What I think might happen (Opinion)
Ukraine seems to have been the last straw for Putin, from Russia’s perspective, to lose Ukraine means to lose the Black Sea Region as a whole. Especially now, after non-NATO countries started applying to join NATO after fearing Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine. This fact might make Russia hold onto Ukraine as long as necessary, perhaps to the point where Ukraine will become another Syria.
Letting go of Ukraine from a Russian perspective would be a big mistake since Ukraine would immediately join NATO. Keeping Ukraine is in a sense buying time for Russia to come up with a plan, it might last years and it might go completely forgotten once a new conflict arises, for example in the Indo-Pacific with some form of China-Russian alliance.
The west will most likely seek to bring China onto its side, which could most likely only be achieved through, the sacrifice of allowing some kind of Chinese expansion of global infrastructural growth in exchange for China siding with the West. If China were to side with the West and also impose sanctions on Russia, Russia would lose its other major natural gas importer, leaving Russia pretty much isolated. However, allowing such a move on China’s part would slow down if not make the U.S impossible of catching up later on, which the U.S and NATO oppose.
Not to mention that allowing such an event would give China the green card of becoming a global dominant empire in the realm of infrastructure and economy.
However, I believe China is aware that after the Black Sea, after the Indo-Pacific, it will be the North Pacific. It will be China’s turn to deal with the geopolitical encroachment coming from NATO, and we all can agree that sanctioning China will most likely backfire on all the west. After all, Americans alone buy more than $500 billion worth of Chinese goods per year, and the European Union imported nearly 264 billion euros worth of machinery and transport equipment from China just last year.
A Chinese-Russian alliance, (involving the BRICS countries, with Iran and Argentina recently applying for membership), would be a major threat to the West, especially if China agreed to impose sanctions relating to the exportation of supplies coming from China to the West.
What is happening in the Black Sea Region is extremely concerning, it is not just a mere war, it is the beginning of what could end with a World War, which depending on its magnitude could involve the use of nuclear weapons. It could lead to the extinction of a huge percentage of the global population.
- Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation; Black Sea Security (2021)
- U.S.-TURKEY RELATIONS (2021)
- Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief (2020)
- ASSESSING THE IMPACT OF TURKEY’S OFFENSIVE IN NORTHEAST SYRIA (2019)
- U.S Department of State: Global Engagement Center: Kremlin Funded Media (2022)
- Frontier Europe Initiative: A sea Change? (2020)
- China: exports to EU by commodity 2021
- This is what the US imports from China | World Economic Forum (2018)
- Two new countries apply to join BRICS, will ‘add value’. (2022)